Tonight Michael Sullivan will unveil Gaia, his new line for spring/summer 2016, at the Denver Art Society. The collection consists of 28 menswear and womenswear pieces created by designers Sullivan and Shatara Wright, both of The HAUS, the collective that Sullivan co-founded; the name stands for Honoring Art and Unifying Souls. In advance of the show, we spoke with Sullivan about the new collection and the collective that fostered it.
A native of Colorado Springs, Sullivan attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco as well as the Art Institute of Colorado for a little over a year. He's designing his own clothing for six years, and showed his first ten-piece collection a year after graduating high school. Sullivan and Lindsey Von Leech co-founded HAUS while he was still in college. "When I went to the Academy of Art I had this vision of a working collective of artists that produces shows and produces work," he recalls. "I started this club while at the University called Artistry United. Shatara [Wright] made a collection, and I showed a collection."
Today there are about fifteen members of HAUS, specializing in everything from photography and hair and make-up to styling and branding. "We are moving into shoe design and HAUS records, which will be our music division," Sullivan says. "Every season there will be new music to accompany the collection and it will be this continuous art piece."
While at the Academy of Art, Sullivan found inspiration from fashion heavy-hitters like Sarah Burton, Jean Paul Gaultier and Phillip Tracy, who spoke at the school. "Your aesthetic always changes," he remembers. "My inspirations come from not just fashion or flowers; I get inspired by people-watching. I get inspired by street style and high fashion. I want to mix high fashion with street fashion.
"My aesthetic and my inspirations change every season," Sullivan continues. "Fall 2015 was inspired by unity and '90s hip-hop. This collection is inspired by the film The Warriors, from 1977, but also the Maasai tribe in Africa. I don't really follow trends. Some pieces are more avant-garde and some are more minimal. This season is very different from anything I've done before. You can expect more skin this season. It's very artsy. I wanted every piece to be unique and like a moving piece of art. Spring/summer always gets people excited. I think people will gravitate towards this collection. The last season was very muted in terms of color, and now we are moving into hyper color."
Sullivan appreciates the local scene. "The Denver fashion scene is growing," he says. "I meet more and more stylists and photographers every day. There is a lot going on. In four or five years it will be completely different. We are picking up. As a fashion community, we need to support each other emotionally attend each other's events."
Of his personal style, Sullivan says: "My favorite pieces are statement pieces. I wear whatever I am feeling that day." Sullivan's favorite color is cerulean blue and his favorite accessories are statement bracelets. While he can't design all of the clothes he wears, he loves to raid his grandfather's closet for over-sized blazers and sweaters. "Love you, do you, is what I tell myself every day," he says. "Some days I feel like a mortician, so I will wear all black and a suit. Everything I wear is based off my emotions. Sometimes it's crazy. Sometimes it's subtle."
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"I never let a situation restrain me," he continues. "I never lower my standards. I urge others to utilize every resource they have. Ask for help. Just don't give up in yourself."
Sullivan feels blessed to be able to follow his dreams and do what he loves for a living. He'll be doing costume stitching for the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities on the production Death Takes a Holiday, and the Gaia collection will be sold at Whorl in Highland this spring as well.
But first, the show must go on at 6 p.m. tonight. The evening will start with bites, drinks and a DJ; local pop performance artist Dorian Phaero will perform along with SUR ELLZ. The Gaia collection will make its runway debut as the grand finale. Purchase tickets to the event here.